Are conspiracy theories really that surprising?

This first part might diverge from the readings this week to some degree, but it is still related, and it’s been something I’ve been wrestling with in the last year or so. I find a lot of it is frustration of being lied to and manipulated in so many ways by the people they should be trusting have led it them to not trusting anyone. Once you can’t trust anyone and have no reference points for valid truth in your life you end up suspicious about everyone. This results in these kinds of thoughts and impressions of the world around them. People still want truth, even if we live in a world where everyone seemingly makes their own. Once that trust in the truth is breeched though it’s very hard to get back. Also, it’s really not surprising in a world with the way governments and politicians have lied about and misconstrued so many of the major events of our lives that there’s little faith in our systems (as we have seen in this course). This is fairly cynical I will grant that. I am by no means associated or believe in any of these ideas. I just don’t think they actually came out of nowhere. There is a clear association in my mind.

Now, to the readings this week. One part that stood out to me in the Politico article concerning Q-anon and the Vice interview were this idea that people who feel not in control of their lives or that they’re losing the “familiar” around them are typically adherents or susceptible to these conspiracy theories. I found this interesting…but also a bit like they were gaslighting people as well. My main idea concerning this was the fact that they target out of work people due to the coronavirus. I feel like the fact that these people question the government (and fairly extremely I will admit) makes sense. Also, they take it to the extreme, way farther than I am comfortable with, but how else can they respond to this? People have lost their livelihoods, homes etc. all in the name of public safety but then have to watch government officials keep collecting their paychecks and big businesses having their most profitable year to date. The wealth gap this year has grown enormously. How else can you see that if not a conspiracy at the very top? And then for these wealthy academics to say they’re “far-fetched” or “People FEEL like they’re losing control over their lives”. There is nobody FEELING like they lost control over their lives, they ARE losing control over their lives.

Is secularism neutral?

One of the readings this week was Nilüfer Göle’s “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam”. One aspect of the relationship between Europe and Islam she discusses that I want to touch on is the idea of Islam in secular chronotopes. That is the idea that all human and social interaction develop in their own time and space. She argues that secularism and democracy in Europe and Islam which has ties to a long history and past are still working this out as they quite different in many ways. She also explores this in the European public sphere using the example of the burka and the assumption that secularism is neutral and therefore better. Obviously this is cherry-picking on a whole lot longer article that explores many aspects of these ideas however I did find it one of the more interesting parts of her paper because of this question. Is modern life/secularism neutral?

I honestly can’t exactly answer that. I feel like it comes very close, though everything has an agenda nowadays. I agree with the separation of church and state. Though the elimination of the burka doesn’t have much to do with that. Obviously the absence of any religion is most likely neutral. I suppose it depends on one’s views and commitment to the state one is in. If you don’t accept that your religion should be a private affair, and you disagree that any time it conflicts with your functioning within the state or the functioning of the state itself that it should be discarded, then I suppose you wouldn’t view it as neutral. You’d be angry that you cannot do what you want. However, if you were to consider that ALL religions need to have this parameter and you accept that this is the best way for order to function in the state with so many differing views, and accept that you have to make some adjustments in order to enjoy that harmony, then one would have to admit it is neutral. The only time this would change is if there were certain other parties agendas being pushed by the state onto you and other religions that could be argued didn’t need to be pushed. Then it becomes a whole other problem, and that looks like very different things to very different people. Not sure where I’m going with this, It’s a big but important topic and I wanted to write down some of my initial thoughts and maybe see what other people think if you wonder about that balance as well.

Chasing far-right votes is a bad move for Macron.

In the spring of 2022 there will be an election for the President of France. Currently it seems as if Macron, the current holder of the position, will be faced against Marine La Pen for this position. They are both polling as the potential finalists in this coming election by a large margin.

Macron, the current president of France, is in a tough position as he has dealt with many crises in his time as the leader of this country. He has had to deal with mass protests, the covid-19 pandemic, and all the while his nation has been rocked many times by terrorist attacks. This last crisis has been the focal point of this election so far as leaders debate a response to Islamic extremism.

Macron has begun to take a much more hardline approach to this topic which has led many to believe he is seeking to steal from La Pen’s voter base. This does seem to be the case. However, this will play out badly for him if this is his strategy.

First of all, Macron came to power as a centrist reformer. This means that he has gotten a lot of votes from the left in his previous election because of his centrism. It made him much more appealing than the far-right under La Pen in the last election. He risks losing these left votes with his new tactics and evolving harder stance on Islam and immigration.

Perhaps he thinks he has already lost those votes with measures such as the tax cuts to the wealthy as they seem to be bearing no fruit. Maybe he figures he needs to cut bait and move on. After all, this, combined with economic inequality and his crackdown on the yellow-vest protestors seem to have lost him a lot of public goodwill. Regardless, this will be the wrong approach. He has a much easier job of trying to bring these people back into the fold to support his side than La Pen does. It will be a much harder job to undermine La Pen’s base.

Second of all, Macron is legitimizing La Pen’s rhetoric by echoing it or seeking to outdo her on her stance on Islam. In a debate ,Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior accused her of “softness” on Islam. This was a big mistake, and major pundits and news outlets seem to be in unison on this. La Pen has been seeking credibility and a distancing from the kind of party the National Rally used to be under her father. She wants to be seen as rational and credible in the eyes of French voters.This was a big step in that direction and the only thing more perfect would be if it had been out of Macron’s mouth himself.

Thirdly, he could be undermining his own base. After all, people chose him over La Pen last time because of his platform. He needs to stick to his identity and not play around too much. A study by IFOP shows he definitely has more of a negative image than a positive one. However, when looking at the data, it is not so negative that he needs to rework or reinvent himself. There are changes to be made for sure, just not as drastic as he seems to be toying with.

In reality Macron needs to prioritize dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic as people have been frustrated and protests have been rampant during these lockdowns. This has been a major source of frustration for the French public, especially considering the fact that economic inequality (which has only gotten worse with corona) has been a major source of anger towards Macron.

Finally, he needs to shore up and solidify public support towards his bill on combating Islamic extremism. The National Assembly sent it through with a good number of the votes meaning many in France support some measure of response to the overwhelming attacks France has gone through. He just needs to convince more of the general populace that this is a rational approach to dealing with a very real issue in France. He doesn’t need to be more extreme or attempt to imitate the far-right in order to get his point across or gain support for himself or his party.

True Reconciliation

I always find it difficult to comment on past societal sins, more specifically how they should be dealt with moving forward. This is the case for many reasons. In the readings this week we explored several articles and a podcast concerning the effects and legacy of Nazism and its reconciliation. In the Podcast “Coming to terms with the Holocaust”, Prof. Mary Fulbrook discusses the legacy of Nazism and how it was dealt with after the war. At one point she delves into how lenient West Germany was with its treatment of former Nazis. She says that of the 200,000 to 1 million people who were involved in the death camps only 140,000 were investigated. Of those only around 6700 were taken to court, and then of those only 160 found guilty! This is obviously an insanely small number, and at first glance seems like a very unfair result, and you would not be wrong. It seems most of the country wanted to denounce this part of their past without the action to back that up. However, as we explored the other articles, we see the stories of Jews (Like Hugo Spiegel) returning to the towns that once kicked them out and taking back their lives. They do this over time by forcing people to come to terms with this and not hiding or backing down from what was done to them. They are the ones who show people that they are just like them and didn’t deserve what happened or how they were treated. So, on one side we have advocates of a top down judicial, punishment and retribution method. Then on the other we have community, historians, teachers, and other society groups who have worked together to rid themselves of these prejudices and attempt to bridge these gaps and fix these wrongs.

So, which is better? It seems nowadays that this is a very important question. As many of our western societies grapple with these questions and our own dark and embarrassing periods this is an important topic. On the one hand people should be punished for what they have done. However, when it is something as pervasive as Nazi Germany how is it possible to categorize levels of complicity within a society like that? It is impossible. There are some cases that will be black and white, however most will end up in a gray area. The problem with this method is it does not truly unify people and just ends up consuming and destroying more and more lives. This distanced and apathetic view of retribution does nothing for anyone. It does not replace family members, it does not heal, it does not give closure. Community and relationships do. It’s hard but it works, and even though Germany still struggles, no one can deny it has come a long way from where it was.

This shouldn’t be confused with simply forgetting. I find it’s easier to forget when you can cut something or someone out of your life. However when you’re forced to deal with someone and come to terms with how you have wronged them or they have wronged you, there is a chance for true reconciliation.

Are women are adding credibility to far-right movements?

I don’t think it had quite occurred to me until this week how prominent women have been in far right movements. If you look at the major players (at least in Western Europe) there are many lead by women. We have La Pen in France running the National Rally, Corinna Miazga in Germany running the AFD, and Georgia Meloni leading the Brothers of Italy. There are others like Ebba Hermansson, who is part of the Sweden Democrats, who are prominent in their own parties even though they are not yet in a categorical leadership position.

This is interesting for many reasons of which the most interesting one is the fact that these parties seem to be a male dominated scene with all of the trappings one would expect. In fact I would almost go as far to say that the reason these movements are typically dismissed is because of that masculine focus and their majority involvement. Obviously there are many undesirable elements to these movements, which I must add, am merely making a case for the reason why they lose out on so much of the available votes. This trope of “angry white men” hurts these parties in many ways. From making them seem uneducated, emotional, and childish as they are simply lashing out and on the fringe of major politics. These women are not a force to be dismissed though. La Pen is neck and neck with Macron in the polls. She could be the next president of France! As well as the AFD being the 3rd largest party in Germany, and the Brothers of Italy are quickly becoming Italy’s third party as well. So what does this mean? Is it directly related to the fact that people can’t use these tropes and stereotypes to dismiss these groups anymore? Is it entirely unrelated? The AFD has a gender problem in that there is still a huge margin between men and women’s involvement in the party. La Pen does not struggle with that and neither does Meloni. Are they appealing to women better? Or are they fixing their parties PR problems? Or…are they simply good leaders and smart politicians and any attempt to categorize them, and their success, as anything but a sexist argument that dismisses and diminishes their accomplishments?

Are populist movements really this hard to pinpoint?

By Gabe McReynolds

The field of political science has long benefited from identifying and categorizing political ideas, values, and organizations. However, sometimes the drive to categorize misses its intended mark. This is in large part due to the confusing and seemingly arbitrary designations populist movements are given on the political spectrum, and the wide range of political views they themselves hold. This is especially the case when examining Left-wing populism.

Populism seems to be driven by a loss of trust in the establishment and economic disenfranchisement. This is called the economic insecurity perspective. The other idea is that it is driven by cultural backlash against progressive liberal views. These are two very different motivators with left-wing populism being portrayed as being motivated by the former.

In 2016, Dr. Ronald Inglehart and Dr. Pippa Norris reviewed the relationship between economic and cultural insecurities and populism around the world using the Chapel Hill Dataset. Their findings suggested that the primary motivator for populist sentiment is cultural backlash. This means that it is reaction against progressive liberal value changes.

This in and of itself is not anything particularly controversial or revelatory. However, it seems their idea and definition of populism was the foundation of any right-wing populist group, not one of general populism (which takes many forms). They say that their definition of populist is “protectionist policies…xenophobia over tolerance of multiculturalism…people and finance over global trade…and traditional over progressive values”. This provides a false starting point because these cannot be applied to left-wing populist parties. Which means the only variables that can be accepted in this experiment seem to be those groups espousing these far-right views. So, it would make sense that the key argument here would cultural backlash but it creates more answers than questions. Especially when you start to try to understand left-wing populism, as these are conservative right-wing values, and how it fits in. So, what does this mean?

Cas Mudde, who is a Dutch political scientist focusing on extremism and populism, is referenced several times in the Inglehart and Norris paper. He makes the distinction that populists always exclude, the political spectrum just reveals who they choose to exclude. He brings up the example of Podemos, a Spanish left-wing populist party who espouses leftist socialist ideals mixed with nationalist views.

This means they want to exclude or limit sectors such as big corporations from the vision of their country. This is different to right-wing views which exclude people. So according to him they would still fit into the definition of populism we are working with. This would clear up any previous confusion except that according to Inglehart and Norris, as well as the Chapel Hill Dataset, Podemos does not even classify as a populist movement!

As we can see, somehow left-wing populist groups (Like Podemos and Syriza) have been classified as cosmopolitan liberal groups. This is also strange considering who is classified in the spot reserved for left wing populism. Groups such as the Greek Golden Dawn (Gre_XA), a neo-Nazi party group that is a nationalist and fascist. Other examples include: Greeks Independent Greeks (Gre_ANEL) an ultra-conservative nationalist group, Jobbik is a right wing Christian nationalist party from Hungary, and Atak which is a Bulgarian ultranationalist party. All of these are classified as left-wing parties according to these scholars.

How is this possible? I am not attempting to dispute the credentials of any authors or academics here. However, I do not see how this correlates with their respective positions on the political spectrum in this graph.

Take for example AFD, as they are on the populist right side of this graph. They are German nationalists, conservative, anti-immigration, and advocate a return to traditional gender roles. Their desires for government are the same as well. This is no different than Golden Dawn or Jobbik. So how did they come to be on opposite sides of the spectrum? How are conservative, nationalist populist groups that have xenophobic tendencies being portrayed as left-wing populist movements?

This may be in part to the patchwork tendencies of populist movements as they are responding to a variety of popular frustration. Regardless, the fact that there are disagreements and completely different views of these groups reveal how hard they are to classify.

Issues in Articulating Ideology

One thing that struck me about the Vice interview “Inside Spain’s Fascist Fandom” and the lecture by Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss were extremist’s groups lack of clear objectives or reasoning behind their involvement. The Vice clip has a reporter, Carla Parmenter, interviewing far-right parties in Madrid as they rally on the date of Franco’s death. Her main subject is a Dutch man, Tom, who has built his home into a shrine to Franco and travels to Madrid on anniversary of his death to rally and celebrate the man. This is a contradiction in and of itself as you have a foreign national celebrating a nationalist in another country with isolationist policies. We also see the reporter interviewing others at the rally. A young man who is part of the Falangists a far-right group that glorifies an earlier dictator, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. When given the chance to articulate his views he simply responds, “take to the streets and change the system”. This offers and reveals nothing, and who knows, maybe he does not even know quite what his ideas would look like in a practical setting. These general and watered-down statements seem common to the far right as there is quite a diversity in levels of commitment and ideology within these groups. Granted, maybe Vice cut out some of the more interesting dialogue in order to make them seem bland and aimless. Regardless these contradictions do seem to be prominent in this movement. So then why is this the case?

Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss offers various explanations through her examining of this alt-right subculture through their commercialization and communities. One I want to highlight is that she notes that in her studies in Berlin that trade-schools/construction were at higher risk for far-right involvement. This could contribute to a lack of more sophisticated approach towards one’s political ideology and the ability to express it as those types of schools do not delve into those fields at all. This is not to say I am saying they are incapable of doing such a thing or inferior in some way. Rather, as we saw in our first class academics use convoluted terminology to define terms such as “fascist”, and they disagree with each other in many ways in using that term in a historical context as well as a modern one. So, if there is a struggle in academia it is not surprising there are many different interpretations that come out of the people involved in these alt-right movements. One thing for sure is that they are not satisfied with the status quo and are seeking to be a part of something bigger than themselves, whether this is misguided or not is a completely different subject.  

Introduction: Gabe McReynolds

Hi everyone! My name is Gabe and I am in the last year of my B.A. program for history. I’ve been lucky to explore a variety of topics and ideas over the past few semesters at Carleton University!

I was born in Ottawa, but spent 13 years in Casablanca, Morocco before moving back to Canada in my last year of High School. This also allowed me to explore a lot of Southern Europe as we lived in relatively close proximity to it. Prior to attending Carleton, I had the opportunity to live overseas in Thailand where I was pursuing a professional Muay Thai fighting career, and later in Southern France and Corsica. Having lived overseas and had the chance to interact with people of all different walks of life sparked an interest in peoples’ cultures and histories. Currently, I am interested in International Security and Conflict and I believe this course will tie in nicely to that!

On a personal note, I am an avid sports fan both watching and participating. Prior to this pandemic I played a lot of hockey and soccer and am looking forward to getting back into this once this is all done with! In the meantime I am been enjoying spending time with my family and catching up on lots of reading.

I am looking forward to working with all of you and getting to know you all better over this term!

Distinctions and Similarities between Past and Present

By: Gabe McReynolds

This week’s articles seek to establish and contextualize terms that could be argued are used fairly flippantly today. In many industrialized, Western states, “Fascism/Fascists” and “Authoritarianism” are used by all ends of the political spectrum to demonize one’s opponents. Moyn and Gordon both to define these terms in the context of the past and our present society, while also putting forth their own position on approaching this subject. The authors seekto understand the benefits and drawbacks to using analogies or comparisons of the past and relating them to the present. Gordon puts forth the idea that being able to compare parts of history with the present is valuable. It allows us to understand the path and present so much better as well as morally orient ourselves and protect against future atrocities. This is simply a more elaborate way of saying we learn from our mistakes. Moyn argues that the dangers of relying on past narratives or events is that they tend to disregard distinctions and differences from the period in which they are being compared to. Moyn also argues that the danger in doing so is that people may disregard differences or misconstrue the historical contexts of these events.

 However, instead of focusing on their differences, of which there are some, I find that both authors argue a rational middle ground from which to approach these comparisons. Moyn and Gordon are arguing many of the same ideas just from different starting points. Moyn seeks to show that comparison is important but that the distinctions when comparing are equally important. He argues that the lack of this can result in partisanship as people will seek to justify past atrocities. For Gordon, these similarities must be examined to avoid dismissing comparisons due to each subjects’ distinctions. It seems like they both argue for a balanced approach to using comparisons. However, it seems that they both argue this from their own perspective and experience of resistance to their ideas. Gordon seems to have gotten resistance from many who would posit that the distinctions are too different to allow for comparison and so his article reflects that. For Moyn, it seems as if the resistance and challenges have come from those who would attempt to dismiss the finer points of distinction when comparing and using these labels which dilute and diminish past experiences as well as current experiences.  

References:

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/